1. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    "Foreign" Cultures and Names in Epic Fantasy - Too Complicated?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by QualityPen, Sep 27, 2022.

    Most alternative-world fantasy settings are inspired largely by Medieval Britain, with English-sounding names, and as a result English-speaking readers are naturally "at home" in such settings.

    I'm writing a fantasy story which is global in scope and includes dozens of cultures. Many are inspired by real-world cultures which are quite alien to people from the Anglosphere, such as the Aztec Empire, Rus, the Eastern Roman Empire, China, Mongolia, etc.

    I routinely get first impression feedback that the names are too complicated. Here are some examples, to be clear what I am talking about:

    Character names-
    (Lord) Atherai Condari de Cuerzava
    (Count) Dalik Condari de Cuerzava
    (Countess) Caterina Velovois-Condari de Semanth
    (Master) Asprios Octar aut Daelith
    (Voyarin) Lysander Irkysus aut Daelith
    (Voyarina) Mavra Velisaya aut Daelith
    (Kirarin) Yarosar Velisayus Felapolisus aut Lafgrad
    (Prince) Sanvel Vilums of Akton
    (Voyarin) Xandros Cirilogos aut Tevith

    State names-
    Empire of Arkir and Daelia (aka Arkir-Daelia)
    Province of Galiphe
    Province of Rosania
    Empire of Jahil
    Empire of Quetax'l
    Kingdom of Navelle
    Duchy of Cuerzava
    Duchy of Semanth
    County of Venthe

    City names-
    Daelith (capital of Arkir-Daelia)
    Lafgrad
    Stargorod
    Cours-de-Semanth
    Cours-en-Ria
    Felapolis
    Vosaribud
    Caithniir

    Most of these are inspired by real world names and words, sometimes taken directly (ie, Lysander), other times modified (ie, Mavra). I swear I'm not trying to tongue-twist my readers, but nonetheless a large portion of people struggle with these names. Because I extensively read history from many cultures and time periods, I don't find these names unrealistically complicated... There are plenty of "complicated" or "foreign" names such as "(Tsar) Aleksandr Pavlovich Romanov iz Sankt Peterburga" or "(Marquess) Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano."

    The question I am posing is this- Is there a way to help an English-speaking reader wade through this avalanche of "foreign" names, or is it inevitable that most readers will throw the book across the room when they read "Kirarin Yarosar," and I just have to make peace with losing a chunk of potential readers?
     
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I doubt most of these characters always go by their full names. This one for instance—(Countess) Caterina Velovois-Condari de Semanth. What's the shortened version, that her friends would call her informally? If it's Caterina Velovois, that's not so bad. And just Caterina on a first-name basis? Maybe Cathy to her besties? Most likely the full cognomen would only be used two or three times in the story, right? Or no?
     
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  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    This is not a new problem at all. Many well-known figures from countries that give out these mega-mouthfuls of names have used nicknames for the international audience. Just a few:

    Sandro Botticelli Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi. His name wasn't really "Botticelli" at all, it was a nickname which means "little barrel" in Italian. The name referred to the well-rounded nature of his older brother who was a government official in Florence, and then later became his own nickname.

    Cimabue — Cenni di Pepi. In Italian this nickname means "Ox Head" which presumably refers to the artist's stubbornness.

    Masaccio and Masolino
    Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone
    Tommaso di Cristoforo Fini


    The given name of both of these early Italian Renaissance artists is "Tommaso" and both nicknames were taken from that.​

    Andrea del Verrocchio — Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni. Verrocchio means “true eye,” in Italian.

    Giorgione — Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco. In Italian, "Giorgione" means "Big George"

    Domenico Ghirlandaio — Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi. In Italian 'ghirlandaio' means “garland maker,” which was his father's profession.

    I would think about coming up with some similar nicknames. If these people are important figures they doubtless would want to be identifiable to people outside of their own country.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2022
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  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    For most of the ones you have listed you could just shorten to first name or nickname and location, like this:

    (Voyarina) Mavra Velisaya aut Daelith — Mavra aut Daelith or Mav of Daelith
    (Kirarin) Yarosar Velisayus Felapolisus aut Lafgrad — Yarosar of Lafgrad or maybe Yaro of Lafgrad
    (Prince) Sanvel Vilums of Akton — Sanvel of Akton
     
  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Empire of Arkir and Daelia (aka Arkir-Daelia)
    Province of Galiphe
    Province of Rosania

    These are the official formal names. I live in The United States of America, and I've rarely ever called it that. It's the US or America or maybe the United States.
     
  6. Lili.A.Pemberton

    Lili.A.Pemberton Active Member

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    I agree with Xoic and also you're not introducing these places one after the other, are you? I feel like you gotta get the readers really used to the fiction place you're in first before you introduce them to other foreign fictional places.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2022
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  7. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    ^^^ Exactly. Look at all the names Queen Elizabeth II had, that King Charles III has, and the Prince William has. How do we invariably think of them and refer to them as? Elizabeth, Charles, and William.
     
  8. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

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    "Please, Countess Caterina Velovois-Condari de Semanth is my mother. You can just call me Caterina Velovois-Condari de Semanth."
     
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Fantasy readers are used to this sort of thing. I agree wholeheartedly with the use of diminutives, nicknames, etc. when possible.
     
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  10. Vandor76

    Vandor76 Senior Member

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    You could make them more "normal sounding" if you translate them a little: (Voyarin) Lysander Irkysus aut Daelith ---> Prince Lysander Irkysus of Daelith. There is no need to invent new words if language-related matters are not part of the story.

    As Xoic suggested: use a shorter form, like Prince Lysander or more formally Prince Irkysus or even The Prince of Daelith. Make a few exceptions, like when they are introduced to someone or announced at an event.
    Remember how many times you heard this during the GoT series: "Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains"? Like... ummmm... once?

    Do not overthink this. The global movie audience got used to Arnold Schwarzenegger's name and many other long non-english names. Think about (and ask) why your beta readers find them complicated. Maybe you use these too often or introduce them too rapidly (infodump)? Or you showed them the above list and scared them with it? In that case, write a few paragraphs with some of these names used according to the advice above.
     
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  11. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Frazzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    Or create an index on how to pronounce the names phonetically and a tree.
    Some epics have these in the beginning of the book (i was asked by betas to do this and my names are A LOT less complex than yours!)

    Ive also read a historical fantasy series inspired by celtic folklore and in the beginning of the book had a few pages on how to properly pronounce the irish names ("sorcha" "cathal" "domnil" "Aisling" "tuatha di dannan".... These arent complex and, with the exception of the last one im assuming, common names. but they are "foreign" to me, an American. So the index/glossary/whatever you want to call it, was helpful to me)
     
  12. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    I remember seeing English-language novels with long and quite unpronounceable names. Seriously, I am more or less familiar with names of many cultures, yet I was unable to figure out how the names in those novels were supposed to be pronounced. And those were actual printed books meant for the English-speaking audience! Therefore, my first reaction to the suggestion that your names should stick out as especially complicated was surprise.

    However, as I ran my eyes over your names, I couldn't help admitting they were somewhat tedious to read.

    I don't think that replacing "aut" with "of" would change anything. And, IMHO, names a little too complicated are a lesser evil than having all names consist of no more than six letters. But I am not the majority of your prospective readers.

    I would suggest replacing the titles with English equivalents whenever feasible, because it's not immediately evident that "Kirarin" with a capital K is not a name, and it can get confusing.

    Added later:
    Something else occurred to me. You aren't using the full names and titles all or much of the time, are you? Because if you do, that's probably the reason why your readers say the names are too complicated. Having to read "Countess Caterina Velovois-Condari de Semanth" over and over would be a real pain in the, um, brain. But I can't imagine anyone suggesting that "Countess Caterina" is somehow hard to read. When Countess Caterina's full name is only used in rare ceremonial situations (or when, say, someone explains to someone which Caterina he is talking about), then the readers should be able to live with that.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2022
  13. w. bogart

    w. bogart Member

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